Does Brain Drain Hurt More In Health Care IT? - InformationWeek

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Does Brain Drain Hurt More In Health Care IT?

In the years to come, many IT shops will be dealing with the brain drain of retiring baby boomers who know all the minute inner workings of technology and the business. But are the generational talent challenges faced by health care CIOs any different? A new report from CSC says yes.

In the years to come, many IT shops will be dealing with the brain drain of retiring baby boomers who know all the minute inner workings of technology and the business. But are the generational talent challenges faced by health care CIOs any different? A new report from CSC says yes.For one, when it comes to recruiting tech talent today, health care already has a hard time beating the rap that it 1) is an IT laggard and 2) doesn't pay as well as other industries.

Those have always been problems for health care IT organizations -- and the allegations have been pretty much true, says Walt Zywiak, principle researcher of emerging practices at CSC and author of the new report, The Multi-Generational Healthcare IT Workforce.

But the new twist now and moving forward is that the health care sector is finally racing to catch up, deploying complex and critical clinical IT systems -- like electronic medical records and computerized physician order-entry systems -- to improve care and efficiencies. So the demand for health IT talent has never been greater.

Many of the seasoned health care IT professionals eyeing retirement will be taking with them deep experience with legacy systems and important lessons learned about "delivering information to physicians, who are very demanding users," says Zywiak in an interview with InformationWeek.

While there are always exceptions, in general physicians are a notoriously stubborn and hard-to-please group of users -- but for good reasons. If clinical software fails to provide docs with key information about a patient -- or even if a patient scheduling system crashes, upsetting workflow and causing delays in treating patients -- it's the doctors who are still responsible for making life and death decisions about the patients.

Health care organizations "will be losing people who were part of the initial set up," in deploying these critical IT systems, says Zywiak. Knowledge transfer of that sort isn't easily accomplished. Many of the younger people entering IT, and not just in health care IT, also aren't as inclined as the older generation of IT professionals to "look under the hood" for a deeper understanding of exactly how certain technologies work, he says. For many of the younger folks, he says, "it's more about mashing systems, cut and pasting."

The health care industry in general still continues to lag in IT pay compared with other industries, like financial services, so that's another reality health care CIOs face when recruiting new talent, says Zywiak. However, one of the advantages health care does have in trying to attract talent is its altruistic opportunities. For many, working in a health care environment is viewed as "an opportunity to contribute to society in some way," says Zywiak. And for that reason, health care CIOs might have a bit of an advantage in finding IT professionals who not only have solid talent but also good hearts.

Does your industry have any special challenges in dealing with brain drain?

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